Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas dinner -- Japanese style

An article by AMY CHAVEZ on the Japan Times Site

Christmas in Japan has always left a little to be desired, but you can't blame the Japanese for this -- they're merely importing the parts they like. And why not? They are quite sure God understands this. I imagine the first Japanese importer went abroad to some place like the U.S., held up a Wal-Mart store with a samurai sword and said: "Give me your entire stock of blinking lights and the sparkly trees!" He then took all the decorations back to Japan and set up pachinko parlors.

Read the rest at: Christmas dinner -- Japanese style

Christmas -- Saint Gregory of Nyssa

"O inexpressible mystery and unheard paradox: the Invisible is seen, the Intangible is touched , the eternal Word becomes accessible to our speech, the Timeless steps into time, the Son of God becomes the Son of Man!"
Saint Gregory of Nyssa

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

マリア - The Nativity Story

The Nativity Story. It's a movie that I (Scot) didn't get a chance to see last year, since I was living in South Korea and it was in theaters for only two weeks. However, after a one-year delay, this movie is coming to Japan under a new name: Maria (マリア). You can see one of the promotional posters on the right, and you can visit the website, which includes a trailer, here:
I decided that I would take the opportunity to finally watch this movie. So this is my review of sorts, though I do talk a little bit about Christian media in general. Unfortunately, it's not a good review.

Let's start with the music, since that is my specialty. The soundtrack for this movie is based off of famous Christmas carols like "Silent Night", "What Child is This", and "O Little Town of Bethlehem". ["Carol of the Bells" even makes a surprise appearance.] However, for some unexplainable reason, all of the songs are sung in Latin. Why?! Every single one of the songs was written AFTER the Reformation, in either German or English. Maybe they were just trying to emulate the ethereal sound of the Lord of the Rings soundtracks, where the choruses were sung in one of the two forms of Elvish, both of which Tolkien based off of Latin. Either way, it gives the movie a decidedly Catholic flavor from the start, which could alienate some Japanese viewers.

While we're on the subject of languages, it should be noted that the whole movie is a mix of English and Aramaic. Basically, it works like this: whenever someone greets another person, says goodbye, or prays, it's in Aramaic. Not Hebrew. Again, why? It makes the priests look like they are chanting an incantation, rather than praying to God. I cannot vouch for the Japanese subtitles, since I didn't watch the Japanese version, but I'm assuming they left the Aramaic untranslated. I should also note that whenever the Lord speaks, he does so in King James English. Can someone tell me if a similarly outdated form of language is used in the Japanese?

Now we come to the writing and directing. This movie has two half-climaxes, but no real climax at all. The movie is supposedly centered around the night of Christ's birth, and yet it opens with a scene of Herod killing all of the young children in Bethlehem (which happened two years later). Then, when we finally get to that scene, which was set up from the beginning to be the climax, it is treated as an Epilogue or an afterthought. Along with that there are certain factual inaccuracies, such as the wisemen visiting Jesus on the night of his birth, not when he is two years old (as the Biblical account puts it). As far as directing goes, Catherine Hardwick tries to portray Mary as a character with angst and rebelliousness right below the surface, but then backsteps from that and always shows Mary making the perfect decision. What we get is a lot of sustained shots of Mary's face where she is supposedly thinking very deeply, but for all we know, she could just have indigestion; we don't know, because we are never let into her thoughts, and her decisions never carry any weight.

This writing and directing typefies what I see so often in Christian media. Biblical characters are introduced, but are never given development. We are supposed to automatically like them because they're from the Bible, but the writing/directing portrays nothing in them that allows us to empathize with them or struggle through the problem with them. They instead become moving icons, rather than real characters. [This gives the actors themselves nothing to work with, so I will not comment on their performances beyond saying one thing: it's dull. Really dull.] The far-reaching results of this are that people, children especially, are far more likely to identify themselves with, and form their ideas about the world from, characters they can relate to, like Harry Potter, Spiderman, Edward Elric (from Fullmetal Alchemist - 鋼の錬金術師), or, in extreme cases, Yagami Light (from Death Note - デスノット, a young man with a strong sense of justice who decides to cleanse the world of evil by supernaturally killing all of the evildoers). All of this instead of modeling themselves after the faith of Mary, the selfless giving of Joseph, or the radical government-toppling culture-renewing life-changing messages that Jesus gave. Why? Because those characters, and those messages, are never portrayed with the same amount of artistic flair or dramatic tension; we are simply told about the decisions these people made instead of being shown how they arrived at those decisions and the radical amounts of dying-to-self that it took.

So, should you see this movie, and should you recommend it to your Japanese friends? It's a tough call. One good thing about it is that it DOES visually represent the time and geographical periods very well. It's also a piece of Christian Media that is getting a somewhat mainstream release in Japan, which seems like an accomplishment that should be celebrated. Then there is always the issue where I feel like I am somehow betraying my faith by saying you shouldn't recommend it. However, in the end, I have to say "No." If someone is seriously looking into the faith, there is nothing in this movie that is going to help them through the process (though I'm not denying the possibility of the Holy Spirit using it), and if somebody is already a Christian, there is little here that adds to the original. I'd recommend just re-reading it.

Sufjan Stevens Japan Tour (Jan, 08)

I (Paul) am really looking forward to seeing Sufjan in concert here in Tokyo next year.

Sufjan Stevens Japan tour dates:
Osaka Gig(Monday Jan. 21, 2008)
Tokyo Gig (Tuesday Jan. 22, 2008)

I feel connected to "Suf" because he is a good friend of a friend of mine. Suf is a Christian, but has gained a broad international following that is not confined to the Christian sub-culture. A very creative and rather unorthodox songwriter/performer Suf produces music that is both fun and thought provoking. He has been spotted wearing wings while performing. If you want to see what that looks like check out this video:

About Sufjan Stevens

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"A Sharp Transformation" Quote by Peter Drucker

“Every few hundred years in Western society there occurs a sharp transformation. Within a few short decades, society rearranges itself… We are currently living through such a transformation.” Peter Drucker

Eastern societies also experience sharp transformations and Japanese society appears to be "rearranging itself" in a major way. This is one reason for a greater openness to the gospel in Japan today than there has been in several generations. It is an exciting time to be part of the church in Japan.

The changes occurring in Japanese society present both huge challenges and opportunities --- we all face the critical question: "how are we going to respond?"

Monday, December 10, 2007

Visual Worship

About five weeks ago, I had the chance to play alongside singer/songwriter Mark Miller (http://www.theothermarkmiller.com/) in a concert in Tokyo. Sadly, it was Mark's final concert in Japan before he moved back to the United States, and he is already missed. It was one of the most fun concerts I have ever played in (I played djembe), with Mark, myself, and two other very talented musicians. However, the thing that made it most memorable was not just the great music, but the great art that accompanied it. Graham Fleming (http://www.gramskrit.com/) added his skill to the concert by making works of art while the music was playing. Using a mixture of chalk and watercolors in order to produce the art in a short amount of time, he created 8 drawings over the course of 9 songs. I have included the eight pictures (plus a pre-concert test) right here:

Graham's experiment during the concert filled my head with thoughts and questions. Specifically, it made me think about worship. A commonly accepted definition of worship is that it is "the act of coming into God's presence and responding to Him on the basis of who He is and what He has done." Bruce Leafbald expands this by saying that worship is "communion with God in which believers, by grace, center their minds' attention and their hearts' affection on the Lord, humbly gloryfying God in response to His greatness and His word."

The phrase that jumps out at me is "center their minds' attention." As I mentioned in my last post, I am an English teacher. As such, I have learned about various teaching and learning methods. One of the most widespread theories is the theory of learning modalities, which says that each student has a particular modality, and if information is presented in a way that resonates with their modality, they will be able to easily comprehend it. The modalities are as follows:
Audio - responds best when information is verbalized or presented via sound. They have a hard time gaining information from books.

Visual - responds best when information is presented visually, whether that be through graphics or diagrams. Learning that occurs solely through sound is very difficult for them.
Tactile/Kinesthetic - responds best when information is associated with movement and hands-on activities. These people generally have a hard time with reading and listening, but will immediately understand when they can walk through the process.

Now, let's connect this with "centering their minds' attention." To me, it only makes sense that a person's learning modality is directly connected with how they are able to channel their thoughts and center their minds' attention. I don't think that worship is an exception. I think that audio learners will naturally be able to express themselves to God most fully using sound, and tactile kinesthetic learners will naturally express themselves to God with movement.

The problem is, our worship services are not set up to favor anyone except the audio learners. Think about the elements of the service. In any service, there are active and passive elements. Generally stated, the active elements are the parts of the service where the congregation directly interacts in the service. The passive elements can include sermons and times of prayer (both audio by the way) as well as the church environment. I am not a pastor, so I am not going to qualify on the passive elements. Let me instead focus on the active element: the worship time.

Most worship times consist of two things: singing and responsive reading. These two things highly favor the audio modality. The advent of computers and slide-show presentations have added some visual element to this time, but it is passive. I am looking for things people can participate in. In some churches, dancing is acceptable, which is a blessing to the tactile/kinesthetic people out there. In other churches, the T/K people have to resort to clapping and sometimes (gasp) raising their hands. As far as the visual people go... well... I'm drawing a blank. I can't think of any commonly accepted elements to the service that allow visual people to actively participate in a response to God. This is sad, even tragic! If worship is about centering our minds' attention and our hearts' affection to God, then we are neglecting a sizeable portion of the body without realizing it! How do these people learn to focus on God when the active congregational times are all conducted in a way that doesn't allow them to center their minds' attention?
This is where Graham comes back in. He was a participant in the concert through the visual element, and it was powerful for us musicians, him, and many people in the audience. Is it inconceivable to bring that same idea into a worship service? Here is a small picture of what it could look like: Set up a table on one side of a sanctuary, and on the table to have blank white paper, small amounts of colored paper, old magazines, crayons, markers, scissors, and glue. During the time when the worship team is playing (especially for extended 3-4 song sets), people are free to come to this table and worship God, centering their minds' attention visually. Whatever is produced can either be taken by them or displayed after the service. Think of how that could transform the worship experience for some of the people in our churches! Just last Sunday, I was sitting next to a friend, and when the pastor was talking about advent, she started scribbling the word "Anticipation" in various fonts all over a stray sheet of notebook paper. It was her way of entering into the worship experience. I questioned her about it later that day, and the short conversation that followed was engaging, heartfelt, and meaningful. I would like to see that story repeated every Sunday.

One final note. Adding the visual element to worship is not a new concept. People who practice Lectio Divina have been discovering this for hundreds of years. I have seen this concept transform campus meetings, where instead of a message, an artistically minded student will lead their peers to meditate on a passage of scripture and respond to it visually.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


Greetings. My name is Scot Eaton, and along with Paul, I will now be making postings to Worship and the Arts. This isn't my first time on the blog, as Paul posted one of my graduate papers three months ago entitled "The Issue of Authenticity in the Japanese Production of Western Music."

I graduated from Northwestern College in Minneapolis/St. Paul in 2006 with a degree in Intercultural Studies. During my time there, I was able to learn from World Venture missionaries Dr. Garry Morgan and Dr. John Easterling. I also took some classes with Dr. Gaylan Mathiesen and Dr. Russ Lunak, whom you may know. Currently, I am working towards my Master's in Ethnomusicology through Music in World Cultures, which is headed by Dr. John Benham and is currently stationed at Bethel University in Minneapolis/St. Paul. I am also a member of the International Council of Ethnodoxologists.

Six weeks ago, I moved to Tomioka, Fukushima, where I teach English at Zion Language Institute, a school connected with Rev. Akira Sato's church. Prior to coming here, I also taught English for a year in Daegu, South Korea.

I am looking forward to writing for this blog. Paul and I have been in communication for about 18 months now, and have come to respect and value one another. We share a common vision, which is to partner with our Japanese neighbors in order to use arts to creatively reach out to this country. That being said, we sometimes have differing opinions, so be sure to read the comments sections from now on in order to get the whole picture!

I have many ideas for posts in mind, which you will hopefully get to read in the next few months. I will be bringing some ideas to the table, including...
1) Reviews of certain anime/manga series, how they relate to the Japanese and Christian worldviews alike, and how we can use them creatively in our outreach
2) Ideas of how the words "scanlation", "fansub", and "short-term missions" can fit together
3) Academic looks into Japanese music trends and their possible effects on Christian Worship
So, hopefully we can generate some interesting, meaningful, and God-honoring discussion that can lead to new perspectives for all of us.